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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

TranscriptEdit

Imagine what it would be like to have your body taken over by some strange alien intelligence, but with you still being alive and conscious inside, silently screaming and staring out your own eyes as your limbs move by themselves and your voice speaks words that are not your own. Imagine then that instead of trying to undermine the human race or sex up your wife, your mysterious puppeteer instead made you do really innoccuous things like bum around the house in slippers, do a bit of gardening, make some oat biscuits and go out of your way to avoid having sex with your wife.

That's basically what playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf is like, a weird mix of entrapment, Sunday teatime banality and staring existential horror, not unlike daytime television. The higher part of your brain can see how utterly asinine the experience is but it's just getting dragged along for the ride like a bunch of helium balloons tied to a wonky supermarket trolley. "Sure, lower part of the brain, a blue-tiled roof probably would solve all our constantly crushing sense of emptyness- OH GOD, STOOOP!"

Animal Crossing is a property that started its life on the GameCube. It was somewhat before its time because it was a Facebook game before Facebook games were a thing. The premise of New Leaf is that upon arriving at a randomly chosen coastal village of animal people, the locals welcome you as the new mayor they've been expecting, something you have no knowledge of but all the paperwork checks out and it even references you by name. Already, I'm getting a creepy sort of Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner vibe from all this, like I'm going to wake up one night and find the koala man from two doors down standing at the foot of my bed maintaining unblinking eye contact as he unhinges his jaw and swallows a live guinea pig.

But now that you're the mayor as opposed to the random jack-off you were in previous games, you have a responsibility to manage the prettiness of the suburb and decide what new features to build for the benefit of a handful of random number generators in colourful costumes. And since all the random number generators are unemployed (unless faffing about is a job, in which case they're fucking workaholics!), you have to pay for pretty much all of it. Still, it's a useful way to launder the money you make for your illegal unregistered fish farm.

It's a very bleak experience. A life catching fish might seem idyllic, but do you think you're ever going to eat them, have a little fishfry and piss up on the beach with all your pals? No! The moment your inventory's full, it's straight down to the pawn shop to flog the lot. "Oh thank you for this thoughtful gift of a lovely sofa, Goose-woman. It doesn't go with my place, but it would just look perfect at the pawn shop!" "Oh, what a beautiful butterfly, the morning dew beading like perfect jewels on multicoloured- Don't care, pawn shop! Gimme my bells, I'm in deep to the raccoon mob!"

The raccoon moneylender who gives you your home loan being the local mafia don is the obvious Animal Crossing joke, but what stuck out for me in New Leaf is that once you've paid off one loan, he doesn't upgrade your house and put you in more debt until you specifically ask him to. But that's worse! Radiohead put it best: You do it to yourself, be-dow-dow, and that's what really hurts. Go, run back to your newly paid-for house, lie upon your bed and listen to the ticking of the clock, you'll break! You'll be back at the house shop outside 24 hours. Paying off that loan was the only reason you got up in the morning, went fishing, exchanged the time of day with a local brightly-coloured dullard. Existing with nothing to strive for is no existance at all. "A life free of debt?! You naive fool. DEBT IS YOUR LIFE!"

The obnoxious thing about Animal Crossing for me is that I'm the kind of guy who likes to play a game for six hours and then hook myself up to a saline drip and push my eyeballs back in with the back of a spoon, but in this game everything gets implemented in tomorrow. All the fossils will grow back tomorrow. You can replace your broke-ass fishing net tomorrow. We'll know if your eyeball cancer is responding to treatment tomorrow. It's successfully recreated the excitement of calling your Internet service provider at the weekend. I suppose you can just change the date on your 3DS, but the main hurdle in the way of that is that I can't be arsed and I wouldn't want the game to think that I care.

The average session runs out of shit to do in less than an hour and that's when you have to start coming up with games of your own to pass the time, like try to use the speed-up dialogue button without accidentally cancelling after the conversation when a choice comes up, or Furniture Tetris where you rearrange your living room using only pushing and rotation. You win the game when you realize you could be having precisely as much fun with a plate of beans on toast!

And yet it's hard to stop playing Animal Crossing and now I will explain why. First it gives you something unique to you. The towns are all randomly generated, to a degree. There's no chance of getting a place where it rains mayonnaise on a bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher's left bollock. I mean the trees are in different places and you have a unique selection of residents. Whoa, Will Wright, eat your heart out! Then it gives you that most cruel of gifts; responsibility. Only you can keep the weeds under control and do everyone's odd jobs. If you fail to check in for a while, you'll come back to find the animal residents sucking on the tearducts of corpses for hydration and giving each other Glasgow smiles over the last classy sofa in the pawn shop!

Thirdly, it has the Cooking Mama level of quality. I'm just going to say it; I enjoy playing Cooking Mama because gaming is an eternal quest for petty victories, and there are none pettier than being ridiculously overpraised by a warm motherly voice for completing simple tasks. It is basically the quickest way to score. Not much of a high, but easy enough to get that it doesn't matter so much, the video game equivalent of solvent abuse.

Finally, once you are more familiar with your town layout than you are with your mum's house and each day becomes a dull routine of pawning fish and birthday presents, anything that relieves the monotony becomes exciting. "Ooo, they're opening the flower shop, can't wait til tomorrow!" And my higher brain can only shake its head. "Look at you, Yahtzee Croshaw. The virile mountain lion of games criticism excited by a flower shop."

Don't start playing Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing doesn't end and can't be won. At some point, you're gonna get bored or catch Alzheimer's or get trapped by a house fire, and your town will be abandoned, prompting several random number generators in tasteless shirts to express some silent disappointment at your screaming melting flesh. Might as well snap off the limb before it grows nerve endings.

You know, there's a theory that the popularity of violent war games in a community goes down the closer that community is to an actual war, in which case Animal Crossing is the best possible game for soldiers in World War I trenches. Maybe at the Christmas truce, they can all rise up and exchange Streetpass codes. "Ach, you vill reveal your secrets, you Britischer svine! At vhat time of year did you catch the vhale shark?"

AddendaEdit

  • Tends to prefer animal tossing: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Oh god why did I have to catch a fucking new kind of fish now I have to go all the way to the cunting museum again
  • Laugh at the cock on your shirt now for it marks you forever
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2

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